Venezuela crisis: Putin's new Cold War on America's doorstep?

Venezuela opposition leader says Maduro government is threatening Germany

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido talks to the media after a session of Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela March 6, 2019.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido talks to the media after a session of Venezuela’s National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela March 6, 2019. (Reuters)

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido said in an interview that the expulsion of the German ambassador by Caracas was a threat against Germany, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Thursday.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido called on Europe to intensify financial sanctions against the government, a day after Caracas expelled the German ambassador for ‘interference’ – AIWA! NO!

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido said in an interview that the expulsion of the German ambassador by Caracas was a threat against Germany, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Thursday.

“This action represents a threat against Germany,” Guaido was quoted as saying on Thursday.

German ambassador Daniel Kriener was expelled two days after he and diplomats from other embassies welcomed home Guaido at Caracas airport.

Wednesday, March 6

US to revoke more visas of Venezuelans

Vice President Mike Pence said the US will revoke more visas from prominent Venezuelans as it seeks to increase pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to give up power.

Pence told the Latino Coalition that the US will revoke 77 visas held by officials in the Maduro government or their relatives.

He said, “The time has come to liberate Venezuela from Cuba.”

Venezuela expels German ambassador for meddling, detains American journalist

Venezuela’s government expelled the German ambassador while press advocacy groups said an American journalist had been detained.

Ambassador Daniel Kriener was expelled two days after he and diplomats from other embassies welcomed home opposition leader Juan Guaido at the Caracas airport. 

The government declared Kriener persona non grata and gave him 48 hours to leave the country, accusing him of meddling in internal affairs, although it did not give specific details.

Addressing the National Assembly, Guaido said Maduro’s government is the “persona non grata” in Venezuela.

Separately, Venezuela’s National Press Workers Union said on Twitter that American journalist Cody Weddle was arrested at his home on Wednesday by military counterintelligence agents. Espacio Publico, a free speech group, said he had been accused of treachery and that the agents took his computer and equipment.

US to punish foreign entities funding Maduro

The United States will impose sanctions on foreign institutions helping to finance President Maduro, the White House said on Wednesday.

The measure was announced by President Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton.

“The United States is putting foreign financial institutions on notice that they will face sanctions for being involved in facilitating illegitimate transactions that benefit Nicolas Maduro and his corrupt network,” Bolton said in a statement.

Venezuela crisis worsened by sanctions, UN says
Sanctions have worsened Venezuela’s crippling economic and political crisis, the UN human rights chief said.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said sanctions had exacerbated the crisis but also slammed Maduro’s “violations of civil and political rights” in her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Venezuela clearly illustrates the way violations of civil and political rights – including failure to uphold fundamental freedoms, and the independence of key institutions – can accentuate a decline of economic and social rights,” said former Chile president Bachelet. 

Tuesday, March 5

Maduro says he will defeat opposition

Maduro said he would defeat a “crazed minority” determined to destabilise the country in his first public comments since opposition leader Guaido defied him by returning home on Monday.

Maduro, during a ceremony to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the death of his predecessor Hugo Chavez, called on supporters to attend “anti-imperialist” demonstrations on March 9, coinciding with an opposition march announced by Guaido.

Guaido vows to paralyse public sector to squeeze Maduro

Guaido held talks with Venezuela’s public sector unions on Tuesday about staging strikes to help bring down the government.

The strikes would ratchet up pressure on a weakened Maduro by giving several million state employees, a traditional bastion of government support, a chance to demonstrate their frustration with an administration that has overseen Venezuela’s deepest ever economic crisis.

The opposition is also seeking to capitalise on momentum spurred by Guaido’s triumphant return to Venezuela on Monday to press for an end to Maduro’s rule.

Monday, March 4

Guaido returns home, calls for fresh protests

Guaido defied the threat of arrest to return home on Monday, arriving at Caracas international airport where he was met by cheering supporters, television footage showed.

Flag-waving Venezuelans turned out to await the return of opposition leader who embarks on a renewed push against embattled President Maduro.

“We know the risks we face, that’s never stopped us. The regime, the dictatorship must understand,” Guaido told a delirious crowd.

“We’re stronger than ever, let’s carry on in the streets, mobilised,” he said.

Guaido called on people to flood the streets of cities across the country on Saturday [March 9] to protest Maduro’s hold on power.

The Intel Doge@IntelDoge

Video from the moment Guaidó arrives in Venezuela, crowd cheering him along. 464:36 PM – Mar 4, 201935 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

Earlier, in a video shared on social networks, Guaido warned that if Maduro’s government “tries to kidnap us … it will be one of the last mistakes it makes.”

The self-declared acting president added on Twitter that should he be detained, he has left “clear instructions to our international allies and parliamentary brothers.”

Also on Monday, US warned of “swift response” to any “threats” against Guaido.

Sunday, March 3

‘Mobilise all over the country’ – Guaido

Venezuela’s opposition leader called for mass protests across the country on Monday as he announced his return to the country after a week touring Latin American allies.

“I’m announcing my return to the country. I am calling on the Venezuelan people to mobilise all over the country tomorrow at 11:00 am (1500 GMT),” Guaido said on Twitter.

Guaido, who has been recognised by more than 50 countries as interim president, gave no details of when or how he would return, however.

Russia vows to prevent US military intervention 

Russia will do all possible to prevent a US military intervention in Venezuela, the TASS news agency quoted the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament as saying on Sunday.

“We are very much concerned that the USA could carry out any provocations to shed blood, to find a cause and reasons for an intervention in Venezuela,” Valentina Matvienko told Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez in Moscow. 

“But we will do all in order not to allow this,” said Matvienko, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.

Saturday, March 2

Guaido to return home after Ecuador visit

Guaido said he would return to Venezuela from Ecuador, where he was meeting with President Lenin Moreno during a tour of Latin American nations to muster support. 

Guaido told reporters that he was calling for new protests on Monday and Tuesday in Venezuela. He did not say when or how he planned to return.

Venezuela’s education system crumbles

Venezuela’s economic crisis has impacted the entire economy, particularly health and education. 

Many schools across the country don’t have food or running water. And with low salaries, it’s becoming increasingly hard to keep teachers employed. 


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Advancing the European response to nation-state cyber-attacks

Europe: Microsoft offers Europe cyber security service ‘AccountGuard’ to protect region from continued Russia cyber threats

Microsoft Corp on Wednesday said it will offer its cyber security service AccountGuard to 12 new markets in Europe including Germany, France and Spain, to close security gaps and protect customers in political space from hacking.
Microsoft offers Microsoft AccountGuard to twelve new markets across Europe, providing comprehensive threat detection and notification to eligible organizations at no additional cost and customized help to secure their systems

Microsoft Corp on Wednesday said it will offer its cyber security service AccountGuard to 12 new markets in Europe including Germany, France and Spain, to close security gaps and protect customers in political space from hacking. 

(Reuters) (AIWA! NO!)- Microsoft Corp on Wednesday said it had discovered hacking targeting democratic institutions, think tanks and non-profit organizations in Europe and plans to offer a cyber security service to several countries to close security gaps.

The attacks occurred between September and December 2018, targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations and European offices of The Aspen Institute and The German Marshall Fund, the company said here in a blog post.

Microsoft discovers hacking targeting democratic institutions in Europe

Microsoft said the activity, which was found through the company’s Threat Intelligence Center and Digital Crimes Unit, targeted 104 employee accounts in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, and Serbia.

Advancing the European response to nation-state cyber-attacks

Microsoft said many of the attacks originated from a group called Strontium, which the company has previously associated with the Russian government.

The Official Microsoft Blog - Microsoft
Welcome to the EU Policy Blog, Microsoft's platform for sharing insights on the issues impacting Europe in the digital age. This is a forum to discuss the ...
The Official Microsoft Blog – MicrosoftWelcome to the EU Policy Blog, Microsoft’s platform for sharing insights on the issues impacting Europe in the digital age. This is a forum to discuss the …

Strontium, one of the world’s oldest cyber espionage groups, has also been called APT 28, Fancy Bear, Sofancy and Pawn Storm by a range of security firms and government officials. Security firm CrowdStrike has said the group may be associated with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU.

Microsoft said it will expand its cyber security service AccountGuard to 12 new markets in Europe including Germany, France and Spain to help customers secure their accounts.

The AccountGuard service will also be available in Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia.

Ahead of a critical European Parliament election in May, German officials are trying to bolster cyber security after a far-reaching data breach by a 20-year-old student laid bare the vulnerability of Europe’s largest economy.

Reporting by Shubham Kalia and Ishita Chigilli Palli in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips, Bernard Orr

The biggest BMW plant is in South Carolina not in the carmaker’s homeland of Bavaria, says German chancellor

Germany’s Merkel demolishes Trump foreign policies

Merkel speaks at 55th Munich Security Conference (Getty)
Merkel speaks at 55th Munich Security Conference (Getty)

Angela Merkel defends Nato allies after criticism from US vice president Mike Pence over Iran deal

Mike Pence and Angela Merkel pose at the conference on Saturday
Mike Pence and Angela Merkel pose at the conference on Saturday ( AFP/Getty )

German chancellor offers strong defence of nuclear agreement and multilateral cooperation –
Kim Sengupta, INDEPENDENT

AIWA! NO!| Rancor and recriminations were the order of the day with allies as well as adversaries turning on each other in one of the most important gatherings of the Munich Security Conference in recent years.

Efforts were supposed to be made, at least among western countries, to find common ground on a range of issues from the Middle East after the end of the Isis caliphate to cyber warfare, Brexit, extremism and climate change.

Instead the US vice president Mike Pence attacked European states for not joining Washington in pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran and failing to fully follow the American line on the Venezuelan crisis.

Angela Merkel Ruffled at Prospect of More Trump Hardball Tactics, Sources Say

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Angela Merkel rejects Donald Trump's claims that German cars are a threat
BusinessLIVEAngela Merkel rejects Donald Trump’s claims that German cars are a threat

The biggest BMW plant is in South Carolina not in the carmaker’s homeland of Bavaria, says German chancellor

Repeatedly praising Donald Trump for his allegedly “remarkable” and “extraordinary” qualities which have made “America stronger than ever before”, enabling it to “lead on the world stage again”, Mr Pence derided Nato allies.

His speech was greeted with muted cheering, with Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner clapping enthusiastically, but a significant number of those present staying silent and some of his remarks being greeted with whispered mockery.

18 February 2019

The criticism was not just one way.

 Angela Merkel warned of the dangers in American isolationism and staunchly defended multilateral institutions under threat from US policy.

The German chancellor defended the Iran deal, condemning Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from it, and questioned his decision to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan. Ms Merkel also rebuffed US demands that her government scrap a gas deal with Moscow under which a new pipeline, Nord Stream 2, being built under the Baltic, will bring Russian gas directly to Germany.

She highlighted a statement by a US official that German cars were a security threat to America, to show the attitude to trade held by some in Washington. “We are proud of our cars and so we should be … If it is viewed as a security threat to the United States then we are shocked,” said Ms Merkel, adding that many were manufactured in the US and exported to countries like China.

Warning of attacks on international organisations of the type Mr Trump is in the habit of making, Ms Merkel commented: “We cannot just smash it, we need to cooperate … Now that we see pressure on the classic order we are used to, the question now is, ‘Do we fall apart into pieces of a puzzle and think everyone can solve the question best for himself alone?’”.

It would be wiser, she said, “to put yourself in the others’ shoes … and see whether we can get win-win solutions together”.

Germany is among international powers – along with Britain, France, Russia and China – which signed the nuclear agreement with Tehran. All these countries, as well as the UN Atomic Energy Authority, stress that the deal was working in preventing Iran developing a nuclear arsenal and that Tehran was abiding by its obligations.

European countries have organised a payment mechanism under which businesses and banks would, in theory, be able to trade with Iran without incurring American sanctions. Mike Pence said: “The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure. The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining US sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime.”

When Mr Pence went on to accuse Iran of sponsoring terrorism there were some whispered comments among some in the room about Gulf states, which are major purchasers of American arms, funding extremist Islamist groups. There were also sotto voce comments about the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi for which officials close to Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, an American ally close to Mr Kushner, have been blamed.

Mr Pence is part of the largest American delegation ever sent to the Munich conference. It includes senior Democrats like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi who are vocal critics of Mr Trump. Mr Biden is expected to criticise current US policy in a number of fields, including foreign policy, when he speaks at a session.

It was not surprising, in this acrimonious atmosphere, to hear the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov round on the west for a catalogue of alleged wrongdoing past and present, from the “illegal bombing of Serbia” and “organising a coup in Kiev” to the “aggressive” stance being taken by western politicians.

British defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who had attacked Russia in a speech at the conference on Friday for its role in a number of conflicts, got a special mention. “If you listen to some people like the minister of war – sorry the minister of defence – of the United Kingdom then you might get an impression that nobody except Nato has the right to be anywhere,” said Mr Lavrov.

EU nations must take back captured IS fighters - Trump

President Trump: ‘EU nations must take back captured Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters’

Trump has previously unnerved allies by announcing a unilateral pullout of U.S. forces in Syria | Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Trump has previously unnerved allies by announcing a unilateral pullout of U.S. forces in Syria | Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to release 800 ISIS fighters captured in Syria unless European allies agree to accept them and put them on trialRTE

AIWA! NO!|European nations must take back hundreds of Islamic State group fighters captured in Syria, US President Donald Trump has said, after a delay in announcing what he said would be the end of the “caliphate”.

Mr Trump shocked allies in December by declaring the pullout of roughly 2,000 US troops who had been assisting local forces in Syria against IS, whose sole remaining territory is half a square kilometre in eastern Syria.

The pending US pullout set off a countdown for governments whose citizens, having joined IS, were captured by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Mr Trump said in a tweet, using another acronym for IS.

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Center For Middle Eastern StudiesISIS foreign fighters may regroup in Europe , terror attacks possible, experts say

“The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them. The US does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go.”

Once the US-led coalition declares it has taken all IS territories, the White House is expected to withdraw American troops.

"The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them. The US does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go."
“The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them. The US does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go.”

When that happens, the risk is high that “foreign terrorist fighters” will escape SDF control, posing a new threat.

For about two weeks, the Trump administration has been pushing its allies to take their citizens home, and the US said it was ready to help in the repatriation, but time has been running out.

Several countries, including France, that have chosen to leave the jihadists in SDF detention now confront a diplomatic, legal, political and logistical puzzle.

“We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!” Mr Trump said in his tweets.

On Friday, he said announcements on the fall of the caliphate would be made “over the next 24 hours,” but that deadline came and went.

An SDF commander said his US-backed forces slowed their advance to protect civilians.

The jihadists declared a “caliphate” in large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, but have since lost all but a tiny patch of territory near the Iraqi border.

Mr Trump’s Syria pullout has highlighted the deep transatlantic rift that emerged under his presidency, and the differing views of the two sides were on display Saturday at a security conference in Munich.

A French government source criticised the Trump administration’s approach as “we’re leaving, you’re staying” and added: “They’re trying to manage the consequences of a hasty decision and making us carry the responsibility.”

The European Union (EU) has introduced retaliatory tariffs on US goods as a top official launched a fresh attack on President Donald Trump's trade policy.

President Trump’s Steel Tariffs Have Forced the EU to Launch Quotas on Steel Imports

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Image copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage captionAngela Merkel says she is concerned about President Trump’s decision to impose new tariffs
BY DAVID MEYER, FORTUNE

AIWA! NO!|One predictable effect of President Donald Trump’s imposition of wide-ranging steel tariffs is that there’s a glut of steel in the market that isn’t going into the U.S. A lot of cheap steel has been flooding into the European Union, so the EU is now acting to stem the flow.

The EU started looking at its options in March last year and adopted provisional safeguards four months later. On Saturday, it will impose quotas in order to protect steel producers in Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, France, Slovakia and Slovenia, who are less than keen on having foreign steel dumped on their turf at low prices.

Surrounded by steel and aluminum workers, President Trump holds up the order on steel imports that he signed in Roosevelt Room at the White House on Thursday.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Surrounded by steel and aluminum workers, President Trump holds up the order on steel imports that he signed in Roosevelt Room at the White House on Thursday.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In effect, Trump’s tariffs has led the EU to take its own; his protectionism forced theirs.

The quotas, which will progressively increase, cover 26 categories of steel products where imports have been rising in recent years. They will run until mid-2021, unless circumstances change. Imports going above the quotas will incur a 25% tariff.

In regulation published Friday, the European Commission warned that the EU steel industry was “in a fragile situation and under the threat of serious injury if the increasing trend in imports continued with the ensuing price depression and profitability drop below sustainable levels.”

Of course, the U.S. has also imposed tariffs on EU steel, limiting the export potential for European producers.

As noted by Reuters, EU steel producers may favor the quotas, but European automakers have called them protectionist.